Love's labour lost as kissing disease hits more women at university

A KISS is just a kiss say the romantics – but an increasing number of female students are dropping out of university after falling ill by contracting what has been tagged "the kissing disease".

A study at Edinburgh University followed 57 students who developed glandular fever during their studies, tracking their symptoms and recovery.

The researchers found that women lost more study time and had more severe symptoms than their male counterparts with the illness. The experts now hope the findings could help reduce cases of glandular fever and its effects. This could include directing vaccines, currently being developed, to those groups most at risk.

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The latest research, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found women suffered worse from glandular fever than men in several ways. On average, the female patients missed 16 hours of classes because of the illness compared to three hours for men.

Women also experienced severe tiredness – one of the main symptoms of the disease – for twice as long as men, at four months compared to two months.

For both men and women, study time was reduced by an average of 25 hours a week after being diagnosed.

Edinburgh University researcher Karen McAulay said it was not yet known why woman seemed to suffer worse than men.

She said: "We are not sure why that would be the case at all. They tended to report their disease being more severe. They had more effects such as not being able to swallow, not being able to take exercise, not being able to go to classes or have social activities.

"Even at the six months follow-up, the women were more likely to say that they had tiredness and fatigue than the men."

Dr McAulay said out of the 57 students they followed, five dropped out of university after being diagnosed with glandular fever and all of them were women.

"Two dropped out completely and three said there were going to come back, though we have no record if they did come back," she said.

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Dr McAulay said there were vaccines in development which could be used to vaccinate students against glandular fever in future.

"You need to know who is most likely to be affected and how they will be affected to determine the best usage of the vaccine," she said.

"That is what these studies are primarily for – to see who would be the best groups to target."

Dr Karen Macsween, lead researcher on the study, added: "There is clear evidence that glandular fever may affect both the academic and social activities of students, particularly in the case of female students.

"Depending on the severity of the illness, this may have an adverse effect on a student's overall performance at university."

Liam Burns, president of National Union of Students Scotland, welcomed the work being done to try to limit the impact of glandular fever.

"Glandular fever is a real problem for some students at college and university in Scotland each year," he said. "It can be very debilitating and for students hugely disruptive to their studies."